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Life’s a picnic

We must take adventures to know where we truly belong.  I am a bit of a control freak, I admit, so my way around “adventures” with three kids, is to pack a great picnic to take with us … at least lunch will be predictable!  Since moving to France nearly four months ago (eek time flies!), our way around EVERYTHING being closed on Saturday afternoons and Sundays is to jump in the car and drive somewhere new.  It’s backfired once or twice, believe me.  In the middle of winter, we once drove forty minutes to greet the pouring rain in a ghost town with nowhere to take cover.  So the picnic happened in the car, right after I lost the coin toss and had to make a (very cold and wet!) dash to the boulangerie at one minute before noon.  The kids thought it was great … hubby was not so impressed and spent the next few days picking breadcrumbs out of the upholstery.

But mostly, we’ve had beautiful picnics – in front of World Heritage Listed chateaux and cités, by gushing rivers and trickling streams in tiny towns that look like they’ve almost been forgotten about, and by shiny lakes with looming mountains in the background and a smattering of nearly naked trees struggling to show off their early-Spring leaves in maroon, burnt orange and bright yellows.  We even picnicked in the courtyard of an old library-turned apartment building in a country village once, which was perfected by the smiling young mademoiselle who swished by offering “Bon appetit!” as she disappeared inside.

I feel like I may have perfected the art of packing a picnic into one bag and being able to walk out the door with three kids and a hubby in fifteen minutes flat.  I’ve learned there are two rules to make it work.  The first rule is to keep it simple. It’s not at all like hosting lunch at home.  The second rule is that people don’t eat as much as they would at the table.  The kids are more interested in the playground or their surroundings, so you can pack far less, and top them up later with an ice cream as a treat or an afternoon tea when you get home.  (As a side issue, the French really don’t do morning tea – just coffee – but they are big on their gôuter – afternoon tea).

The easiest picnic I’ve packed was when I had leftovers from my poached chicken and beetroot salad from the night before.  It filled a large Tupperware container, and it’s an all-in-one meal.  I threw in some plastic bowls and some vintage cutlery I had bought the day before for only five euros (it’s always nice to have real cutlery – real crockery is way too hard) and the bulk was done. I always have baking in the freezer and cheese in the fridge (several in fact) so they get popped in the bag with some mandarins, a baguette bought on the way, and you’re a superstar mum and caterer.  If you want to really create a memory, it’s lovely to include a bottle of bubbles and some plastic flutes.  Discard all the plasticware before you leave and it makes for a quick getaway and a no-mess cleanup.

For colder weather, prepare in advance by having soup already made in the freezer.  Take it out the night before (ha! who am I kidding … a whole day and a night before in the European winter …) and store it hot in a Thermos.  A mug of soup finished with cheese and baguette – and perhaps some olives? – is very satisfying, packs neatly and fills up tummies.

The only other trick I have used is to make up a homemade dip (usually hommus or garlic and herb dip in fromage blanc) and transport it in a jar with a screw top lid.  Cut up a stack of carrots, zucchinis, cucumber, capsicum – whatever you have on hand – into batons and you’ve got a speedy, nutritious snack.  Throw in some cured ham, don’t forget the cheese and baguette and everyone’s happy.

Being away from “home” and living a much slower paced life has allowed me to really fall in love with the simple things you notice when you get good at doing the picnic thing … nature has so much to offer, a foreign culture always has a surprise or two waiting and quality time with your nearest and dearest can turn into amazing memories when you create a reason to huddle around a rug or a weather-beaten picnic table.  Deadlines are non-existent and conversation flows easily.  Picnics are food for your tummy and food for your soul.
vineyards cows
We are always rewarded with beautiful views when we get out into the country …
and we always meet some interesting characters 🙂
puivert lake donkeys chateau maroon leaves puivert playground
On the way to Puivert Lake, we had to stop and photograph this chateau,
home to a herd of donkeys.

picnic2 cutlery vintage
Keep it simple stupid!  But there’s always room for vintage cutlery …
especially when it was only €5!

sam soccer sun
Picnics mean time to hang out with the kids …
and play around with quirky photos!

Bon appetit!

With grace and gusto,

kpx

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Tarte à la moutarde

I had a moment today when someone said next week is September!  I knew this, of course, but it triggered a sub-conscience thought I’d buried that September was to be the start of “the busy lead up” to our France trip.  Put it this way, on my to-do list this week, is “create a 100 day countdown calendar for kids”.  We’ve talked about France for so long that the poor little dears have it constantly in their minds as a “someday” trip but sooner rather than later, they will start to figure out that mummy’s crazy dream is in fact coming true.

The short version update is this: visa application appointment in Sydney is 28 days away; at this stage, we’re getting on that plane not knowing when we will return; I have changed the font three times on the cover of our visa application display folder (which contains 72 pieces of paper and counting) in an attempt to appear serious but enthusiastic; I am negotiating with myself on a daily basis about which pieces of furniture to keep and store, and which to give away or sell.  When friends come to visit or stay, they almost always walk out with something we can live without because stuff = space = storage costs.

So a couple of days ago, I welcomed the opportunity to be brought back to “the main thing”.  I’ve been dreaming about what it will be like when we actually get there and settle into a slower-paced life, about the rich produce France boasts and the village markets that permeate all your senses.  A French friend who was staying with us, and has just left (we miss you Maria!) cooked us a typically French tomato and mustard tart.  It is decadent in it’s simplicity: the rich tomatoes and dijon mustard combination packs a punch in flavour. She was (rightly) chuffed with her dish and while she didn’t understand my Aussie wise-crack (think The Castle) “This is going straight to the blog!”, she is happy for me to share her recipe.  It’s actually best served at room temperature or even cold.  I shamefully admit to inhaling three pieces in a row the next day!

tarte a la moutarde_logo

Tarte à la moutarde

Ingredients

Frozen or fresh puff pastry – enough to fit your desired tart tin
(She used a very large dish which required 4 sheets … an average 20-25cm dish would require about 2 sheets.  If you like a thick crust, you may wish to double up on the pastry.)

1/2 cup good quality dijon mustard
3-4 large vine-ripened tomatoes, thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
handful of fresh thyme
3/4 cup grated gruyere or cheddar cheese
olive oil to drizzle

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.

Grease your tart pan and fit the thawed pastry to the pan, cutting off excess and using to “patch” any holes.

Smear the mustard generously along the bottom of the pastry and up the sides.

Sprinkle the grated cheese along the base.

Layer your tomato slices so that they are slightly overlapping.  Start on the outside of the pan and work your way into the middle.

Season to taste with salt and pepper, sprinkle the fresh thyme and drizzle the olive oil over the top before baking for 35 minutes or until the pastry crust is golden brown.

Allow to cool to room temperature before serving.

With grace and gusto,

kpx